Jamaica. I had heard the name of the small island in the Caribbean Ocean throughout my childhood. This was where my father had grown up on the beautiful grounds that are called the Round Hill Resort. Fueled by my dad’s stories of cliff diving and bonfires on the beach, I dreamed of a lush green landscape with Blue Mountains and reggae music. In my mind, Jamaica was an endless summer where every day was spent at the beach under the baking sun and in the sparkling, crystal waters. Of course over time, I understood that not every day was paradise in Jamaica but I held on to the belief that this island was one of exceptional beauty.
It is with this preconceived notion that I excitedly applied to my school’s mission trip going to Jamaica. The trip entailed traveling to multiple homes for children in need, run by Mustard Seed, an organization that helps the less fortunate. Each home was there for a specific need. The one where my group was staying was called Sophie’s Place and was for kids who were severely mentally or physically disabled. After being selected, my friends and I were so happy and eagerly waited for when we would leave. Finally, the day arrived and all the supplies were packed. We struggled to get everything documented and ready for the flight but there was such excitement to finally be on our way that every one was cheerful.
We arrived just as it turned dark and were slowly loaded into a large bus that would take us to Sophie’s Place. The bus drove along the one main road in Jamaica, speeding past cars, shacks, and colorful signs telling the reader that “running a light could put out your light”. Soon we began winding up a treacherous path that twisted around the scraggly mountains. Minutes later, we reached a poor section of Kingston where Sophie’s Place was. Exhausted, everybody collapsed into the bunks made ready for us and fell asleep.
The next morning we awoke to screams. The painful shrieks were coming from the small houses where the disabled kids stayed. We later found out it was feeding time and that was their way of calling for food. Our group spent that first day meeting all the kids who lived there. Most were in wheel chairs but some could walk around. We got to know these children and had so much fun staging wheelchair races and singing as many songs as we could think of. We spent the following week working for Mustard Seed and helping these kids in many different ways.
Some days we left and traveled to another homes such as Jacob’s Ladder or My Father’s House. One home was for HIV positive kids, another for pregnant teenagers, and more for the children with a range of disabilities. Everything we did was for the children, from weeding and planting an entire garden to feeding the kids whose movements were restricted to blinking. There was sadness and anger in some of the children but most were happy. It was the simple things that alleviated the despair some felt. A small bowl of oatmeal or a high five made the day of a child. Each day we learned more about living with less focus on ourselves. Living selflessly for this short amount of time, opened my eyes to how little other worries matter when you see a suffering child smile at you. I entered Jamaica with an idea of what I would find and I left with the discovery of what exceptional beauty truly is.
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